Joan Myers

Exhibition Dates:
June 27- September 10, 2008

Andrew Smith Gallery at 122 Grant Ave., Santa Fe, NM 87501, presents an exhibit of photographs by Joan Myers titled Brimstone, opening Friday, June 27, 2008, with a reception for the artist from 5-7 p.m. Joan Myers is one of New Mexico's most intelligent and prolific artists. Over the last thirty years she has produced photographic projects and books about the Santa Fe Trail, Japanese relocation camps, images of older women, the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain, the environment of the Salton Sea near Palm Springs, California, and the frozen world of Antarctica.

Recently, Myers has been focusing on fire, specifically photographing geothermal sites in Yellowstone, Iceland and Pompeii where the earth's volcanic forces of destruction and renewal are spectacularly evident. The word geothermal comes from the Greek words geo (earth) and therme (heat). Volcanic eruptions create fertile new land around the world, and geothermal energy is a renewable energy source used to heat buildings and generate electricity. Volcanic energy is also the most destructive force in nature.

Brimstone contains a stunning body of new photographs describing an elemental world of boiling lakes, mud pots, hot springs, fumaroles, lava flows, geysers, and artifacts. Myers's accomplished use of subtle colors and her appreciation of the abstract quality of these scenes imbue her digitally printed photographs with visual power and documentary information. The exhibit continues through Sept. 10, 2008.

Myers began her project in the winter of 2007 in Yellowstone National Park, one of the premier geothermal locations on the planet. Yellowstone has more "hot spots" per square foot than anywhere else in the world. Its geological wonders include over 300 geysers and more than 10,000 thermal features. Myers photographed the snow covered landscape, capturing the eerie beauty of billowing steam vents, turquoise hot springs, and a fairyland of mineral deposits.

Next, she visited the ancient city of Pompeii, the world's best known archeological example of the destructive power of volcanoes. On August 24, A.D. 79 a 12-mile high cloud of ash and rock exploded from Mount Vesuvius, blowing debris toward the cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabiae and other sites. Hours later, avalanches of toxic gases and ash rushed out of Vesuvius with a force of over 100 kilometers an hour, entombing Herculaneum in volcanic mud and burying Pompeii in volcanic matter. Thousands of people died instantly from the hot air of the surge. Myers photographed the remains of the rich lives these people had enjoyed in their elegant houses and splendid gardens adorned with mosaics and frescos.

Later that year Myers traveled to Iceland where the mid-ocean ridge of the Atlantic Ocean comes ashore along Iceland's Reykjanes Peninsula. This plate boundary is marked by a zone of volcanic and seismic activity making Iceland a geologic "hot zone" with volcanic and fissure eruptions, shield volcanoes, pillow basalts, glaciers and geothermal features such as mudpots, hot springs, geysers, and fumaroles. The ancient Icelandic culture used heat and water from hot springs for washing, cooking, baking, and heating their homes. Today geothermal energy is a major resource of Icelandic society.


Yellowstone IV (Mammoth Upper Terraces), 2007
In a bleak landscape nearly devoid of color three dead trees coated with frost stand near a pool of steaming sulfuric minerals. In this area of fumaroles, or steam vents so much heat rises from the earth that most of the water boils away before it reaches the surface of the ground. The high contrast tones of the photograph -- vivid blacks against light pastel colors -- underscore the remorseless beauty of this region.

Yellowstone XIII (Doublet Pool), 2007
Calcified minerals have formed around a turquoise colored hot spring. As underground hot water rises through ancient limestone deposits it creates a terraced effect resembling a frozen waterfall. What looks like a white sand beach around the pool is actually scalloped shaped mineral encrustations below the clear water. The photograph is both a factual document of a geothermal site and a satisfying arrangement of shapes and colors.


Yellowstone XII (Upper Geyser Basin), 2007
White steam and mist spew out of the ochre colored earth obscuring trees and snow fields in the distance. The image hovers somewhere between a landscape and an abstraction suggesting awesome turbulence.


Fresco, Pompeii, 2007
Inside a once prosperous house in Pompeii the coral red walls are embellished with a fresco depicting a mythological adventure. Nearby stands an elegant blue-gray marble column. Speaking of the opulent life of those times the Roman Stoic philosopher, Seneca, said: "We think ourselves poor and mean if our walls (of the baths) are not resplendent with large and costly mirrors; if our marble (statues and busts) are not set off by mosaics of Mumidian stone or their borders are not faced over on all sides with difficult patterns, arranged in many colors like paintings; if our vaulted ceilings are not buried in glass; if our swimming pools are not lined with Thasian marble, once a rare and wonderful sight in any temple; and finally, if the water has not poured from silver spigots."

Food Stall, Pompeii, 2007
Myers photographed the colorful interior of an ancient food stall, a "fast food" restaurant of its time. The wall is decorated with a fresco of five festive people standing above a symmetrical design of coiling snakes. A long table with three round troughs that once held food resembles a modern kitchen counter. The walls are gaily colored with remnants of terra cotta red, magenta and azure paint.

Garden, Pompeii, 2007
Myers photographed a large pool, still showing patches of sky blue paint in places, and surrounded by marble columns and lush trees. The pool is dry, the columns are mere fragments, and the only inhabitant is a large dog that calmly regards the photographer.

Mosaic, Pompeii, 2007
The photograph shows a mosaic of a black dog chained to a ring and seated against a white background. The mosaic has such freshness and sophistication that it could have been made yesterday. The only hint of color in this charming scene are bits of red tile in the dog's eye, tongue and collar. Such decorative pictures embellished the grand temples, amphitheaters, elaborate public baths, aqueducts and dams of Pompeii and nearby cities -- the legacy of the Roman Empire.


Hverarond Geothermal Field, Iceland (Italian Nuns), 2007
In Iceland Myers photographed three nuns wearing blue veils and long gray habits wandering next to a boiling steam vent. Covered head to foot in cloth they appear as timeless as the primordial landscape they wander through. But the image also suggests how vulnerable humans are to the molten energy at the earth's core, 4,000 miles below the surface.

Grindavik, Iceland, 2007
A lone figure walks along the edge of a vast cauldera billowing white steam. The photograph conveys how humans are both fascinated by and totally at the mercy of the earth's volcanic power. As myths throughout the world recount, these scary places have had a profound impact on the imagination. In Virgil's "Aeneid" the hero Aeneas descends into the volcanic underworld with an oracle who predicts the future. The underworld section of the "Aeneid" was inspired by an actual geothermal place near Naples. Dante's "Inferno," used the "Aeneid" as the geographic basis for its vision of hell.

Black Pool, Krisuvik, Iceland, 2007
Where lava recently flowed into a crater the earth is blackened and cracked. Molten heat lies just below the unstable surface, hovering as a white mist above the scorched earth. This photograph conveys the true colors of brimstone -- blue-black and vivid orange; the obscurity of darkness mingled with vivid color.

Myers's interest in geothermal sites is ongoing. She plans to photograph volcanos in Hawaii and in the Aeolian Islands near Sicily. She is also learning more about the effect volcanos have on global climate change. When Krakatoa erupted in 1883 enough volcanic particles were discharged into the atmosphere that the following year there was no summer. The cooling of the oceans resulting from the eruption lasted almost a century.

Andrew Smith Gallery will be featuring selections from the David H. Arrington Collection, along with a Photo Arts Gift Shop displaying Ansel Adams books, posters and postcards related to the Arrington Collection.


Liz Kay